The benefits and drawbacks of remote voting solutions

Computer keyboard with VOTE keys

Frender/Adobe Stock

To gather evidence about what remote voting solutions work in Europe, in terms of increasing participation in elections and in which context, researchers examined the barriers to voting encountered by different groups of citizens. The team also mapped seven different types of remote voting solutions available in EU member states.

Each option has its benefits and drawbacks. Remote voting provides more accessibility but it also entails some vulnerabilities. At the moment, there is little evidence about the impact of remote voting solutions, including the consequences for turnout and costs.

What is the issue?

Participation in elections in Europe has decreased, on average, in the past 25 years. Understanding how different voting methods could aid or discourage greater participation in elections could help contribute to a wider European strategy for enabling civic engagement and democratic legitimacy.

How did we help?

The European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers commissioned RAND Europe and Open Evidence to gather evidence about what remote voting solutions work in terms of increasing participation in elections and in which contexts.

The study examined the barriers to voting encountered by different groups of citizens and mapped the seven remote voting methods available across the EU:

  1. By post
  2. By proxy
  3. In person from abroad (e.g. in a consulate)
  4. At special polling station inside the country (e.g. in a hospital or prison)
  5. At a mobile polling station
  6. At any polling station in the country (implying that people can vote outside their district of residence)
  7. Online (i.e. Internet voting)

What did we find?

  • Remote voting solutions may facilitate the participation in elections by specific groups of citizens, including expats, military voters, voters resident in health and care institutions, and prisoners. However, practice, administration and implementation varies across member states, and is highly dependent on the electoral system and values of the country.
  • Interest in Internet voting remains high, and a number of member states have planned trials. There is current interest among some EU countries and regions to trial internet voting solutions or to study the issue. However, the existing evidence with regard to the impact of Internet voting on turnout and participation by young people is mixed.
  • Apart from being used for casting a ballot, digital tools are also being used in other parts of the voting process to increase accessibility and reach, such as online applications to use a specific voting option, IT systems for voter registration and checks, counting the votes and transmitting the results.

Note: The primary research for this study was conducted from October 2017 – July 2018, and the analysis concluded before the 2019 European elections, which were not taken into account. Although the information contained was correct at that time to the knowledge of the research team, changes affecting remote voting options may have been proposed or come into effect during the span or directly after publishing this study.

Conclusions

Each remote voting option has its benefits and drawbacks. Remote voting provides more accessibility but it also entails some vulnerabilities. At the moment, there is little evidence about the impact of remote voting solutions, including the consequences for turnout and costs. Moreover, the outcomes may depend on the context and on the specific design of the voting option. Therefore, expectations from what remote voting solutions can achieve should be managed with caution, and backed up with evidence taking into account the context in which the evidence was generated.

We identified a particularly wide knowledge gap relating to the situation of voters with no fixed abode (including homeless voters). It is important to further explore and better understand the situation of these citizens, both in general with regard to their access to the ballot and the extent to which additional measures (such as remote voting options) could allow this.